Matchup of the Day: The Lovers vs. In the Realm of the Senses
Today we have two films about love affairs that met with censorship – In the Realm of the Senses vs. The Lovers.
Sada Abe, a former prostitute, attained infamy in Japan back in 1936 after strangling her lover, Kichizo Ishida, to death and cutting off his genitalia. She carried the severed private parts around with her for three days before being arrested, later saying “I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories.” In the Realm of the Senses depicts the obsessive nature of the relationship between Abe and Ishida. There are very few scenes that do not involve some form of explicit, unsimulated sexuality. The two go at it to the point of exhaustion, until death is the only release.
The Lovers is similar to Realm in that it is also about two people who engage in an affair as though the rest of the world doesn’t exist. But, while Realm is almost entirely about the intimate aspects of the affair, The Lovers only devotes about the last twenty minutes of its running time. The film stars Jeanne Moreau as the dissatisfied wife of a newspaper owner. She spends most of her days hanging out in Paris with her friend Maggy and a polo player named Raoul, whom she is attracted to. Because Moreau talks about them frequently, her husband suggests that she invite them to stay at their country home. On the day they are set to arrive, Moreau’s car stalls. She is picked up by a passer-by who she hits it off with. He ends up staying at her house as well. During the night, they meet outside, where he proceeds to woo her. They romance each other until morning and then unapologetically drive off together with no definite plan for the future.
The Lovers was released in 1958. It became the focus of a legal battle in 1964 when an Ohio theater owner was fined $2,500 for screening the film after the state deemed it obscene. Even though, by today’s standards, the love scenes are hardly eyebrow-raising, the case was taken to the Supreme Court. Justice Potter Stewart said that the obscenity, aside from hardcore-pornography, was protected by the Constitution. He went on to famously state
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
By the time of Realm‘s release in 1976 Porno Chic was in full swing and hardcore pornography was approaching mainstream acceptance in the United States. While Realm is ostensibly pornographic, the article “Some Notes on Oshima and Pornography” discusses how the filmmaking techniques used in the movie are considerably different than those found in typical pornographic offerings. The goal of the film was not to titillate the audience with graphic sex, but rather to create empathy for the characters by portraying their intimacy. Still, the director, Nagisa Oshima, was not allowed to show genitalia in a Japanese film. He was forced to make Realm as a coproduction with France, which had looser pornography laws. Even then, the film initially met with censorship in various countries including the U.S., England and Canada. It hasn’t been shown uncut in Japan to this day.